Having bided his time on the sidelines, George Bridge is finally ready for a run with the Crusaders and will make his return to first-class action against the Highlanders on Friday night.
In an added twist to the return, Bridge will run out on the right wing instead of the left, with fellow All Black Sevu Reece dropping to the bench.
It’s a bit of a mix-up for Bridge, who can’t remember the last time he was handed the No 14 jersey.
“I haven’t had the 14 jersey on my back for a wee while but I’m just happy to be out there,” Bridge told media. “I haven’t played in five and a half months so to get a wee opportunity to be on the field is massive for me. I’m really excited.
“[While] I haven’t had the 14 jersey on my back for a while … I’ve had to swap over in the middle of games and stuff like that a couple of times so it’s not too much different.”
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Bridge played for the Crusaders Knights development side two weekends ago in his first return to action since suffering from a torn pectoral at an All Blacks mid-week training session during last year’s Tri Nations competition in October.
“In a defence drill, I sort of got stepped on my inside and slid out going [right] and put my arm out to make a tackle … and it sort of got wrenched back like that and just popped off the bone,” he said.
“Had surgery about a week after I did it and then I was in a sling for six weeks and then it was a pretty slow start because, obviously, it had fully ripped off the bone so they had to drill a couple of holes into it and stitch it back on so had to wait for it to fuse back to it before I could start my rehab and stuff.”
Bridge returned home to Gisborne in early December and by the time the Super Rugby Aotearoa pre-season rolled around, he was ready to get back into properly rehabilitating the injury.
“I’ve sort of just been building every week and getting that muscle back and getting more confident with getting into that [tackling] motion and now it’s feeling 100 [per cent],” he said.
“I got through 40 minutes for the development team two weekends ago and felt fine. The whole time I’ve sort of been thinking that sort of [tackling] motion is where it could be an issue but while I’ve been back full-time training for the last month or so, the confidence has gotten a lot better every week.”
“We want to get the ball out and into Richie Mo’unga’s hands."
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) March 31, 2021
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has already struggled to accommodate the riches of talent that has available in the Crusaders backline this season, with the likes of David Havili, Will Jordan, Leicester Fainga’anuku and Reece all jostling for positions in the back three.
In Bridge’s absence, Fainga’anuku has made a name for himself in the No 11 jersey while Havili has slotted into the midfield.
Instead of dropping the relatively junior Fainga’anuku, however, Robertson has seen fit to promote Bridge onto the right wing in a move that the coach hopes will pay dividends for Bridge at the higher level of the game.
“Leicester [Faingaa’nuku] has been superb for us, and we just wanted to make sure we had flexibility in our options in our backs, and to give George the chance to play on both wings because he can play fullback as well,” Robertson said.
“He can show the All Blacks selectors that he’s got utility factor and can play both sides.”
While the Crusaders are undefeated in this year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa competition, their opposition on Friday night, the Highlanders, haven’t tasted victory since Round One.
Undoubtedly, Bridge will be itching to keep the Crusaders’ perfect record intact.
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